A New York state judge invalidated Binghamton’s two-year moratorium on natural gas drilling, which marks the first time a court struck down a local law banning fracking in New York.
State Supreme Court Justice Ferris D. Lebous became the latest New York judge to weigh in on local bans or moratoriums, ruling the city law approved December 2011 failed to meet the standards of a properly enacted moratorium. Lebous said the city never established there was a “dire emergency” regarding a practice still not allowed in New York.
“There can be no showing of dire need since the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has not published the new regulations that are required before any natural gas exploration or drilling can occur in this state,” Lebous wrote in his decision.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is considering whether to allow natural gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process involving the injection of wells with chemically treated water.
As the DEC review continues, more than 30 upstate municipalities have passed bans on gas drilling and more than 80 have enacted moratoriums. The laws enacted by towns sitting atop the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation are typically in response to fears fracking could contaminate water supplies, though the energy industry says the process has safely been in use for years.
Local bans in Dryden and Middlefield have already passed muster with state courts. Lebous referred to those two previous court decisions as “well-reasoned” and focused his decision on Binghamton’s actions. Despite the loss for Binghamton, environmentalists said the ruling reaffirms the legal right for local bans. Lawyers for environmental groups said they don’t believe this ruling would imperil the other local bans.
Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan said Wednesday an appeal is likely. He said the city could try to pass a similar law that would not run afoul of the court.